Let me tell you: up to now I still cherish my secondary school car-tyre sandals! I wish I had kept them safely in my museum of history; they would have made a good relic for my future autobiography.
Listen, those tyre sandals shaped for me a better perspective about life; something which those spoilt girls who stopped me for “a ride” did not know. That is, learning to focus on what matters in order to get that which you desire. For me, the issue was to read my books and then the rest would follow. I learnt to set my priorities right even at that early age. As long as my mzee was very willing - like he always was - to pay my school tuition, which was a good deal. After all, how many kids longed to go to school but they couldn't?
As far as shoes were concerned, mzee never gave a damn. For all we could remember, mzee went about his daily business barefooted for the most part, and only put on shoes when he had to go visit someone in the city or (and this rarely happened) to see a doctor. That's when he would pull out his best attire normally reserved for Sunday: a checkered jacket, a marching shirt and trousers, and a pair of Bata shoes.
These precious items were always tucked away under lock and key in my mother's suitcase, along with our Sunday best. Our mother was very strict on this. Ati you could simply wear your best clothes bila mupango? Forget. You had to be sick (in which case you would be going to see the doctor) or else when you were going to join a new school. Sometimes we had to feign sickness in order to get an opportunity to put on our shoes. As soon as you came back from the doctor's you would put them back in the suitcase.
And so if you saw mzee pull out his shoes, walking stick, bowler hat and bag, you would know he was headed for the city. Most of the people in our village borrowed literally everything whenever they had an errand to make, but mzee would never do anything of that kind. So his shoes and jacket always serviced the entire neighbourhood. Even men who were as tiny as mosquitoes still borrowed mzee's jacket. We always joked that mzee' jacket was ‘wearing the man’ rather than the other way round. I remember one guy who wanted to borrow his poll-tax tickets as well because his taxes for the year were still due. Guys are funny: how do you borrow someone else's ticket or ID to travel?
Anyway, as I was saying, mzee did not give a damn about anyone going to school - be it in the city - on foot. If you told him you needed new shoes mzee would ask you whether you are going to study or to attend a fashion show! For him, shoes were a luxury since he wore them only when it was necessary.
But looking back now, I think I admire mzee's attitude. The man had fifteen of us, all going to school. How could he have managed to keep us in school with his limited resources if he did not set his priorities right? We always watched as he sold several of his cows every term and gathered us around him, with our reports.
“How much did they write on your report?” he would ask each one of us. “So-and-so's report says the school charges are so much,” one of the big boys would read out aloud. Mzee would ask him to count off the amount and give it to the owner of the report card. Plus transport to school, of course, and a few coins for pocket money (if you are lucky). “And how about you?” the ritual would continue, up to the last child.
Make a mistake to complain - like our sisters often did - and there would be fireworks. “Ayisii!” mzee would retort, like he always did whenever he was ready for a fight, “I don't want to see a stupid girl showing me her ugly teeth!” Then he would thump the ground several times with his walking stick. “If you don't want to study, that's your business.
I am giving you this opportunity to study because I wanted to go to school but my father denied me the chance. Give me back my money and sit at home and get married. After all, it is all a waste! You always bring home a lousy report and now you even dare shout wo-wo-woo at me!”
But we all knew him. That was always a threat to make whoever had a bill to table think twice. Who did not know how the old man loved his daughters? He would always call them secretly and give them a few more bucks when the guys were not watching.
But because of mzee’s pragmatic approach to life, we were able to go to school as far as his pocket could take us. And the lesson we got from him was clear: if you want to get something good in life, you’ve got to persevere and sacrifice for it. Good things, mzee believed, do not come easy. And he was right.
- Geoffrey T. Muhoozi is a Ugandan trained Public Relations Practitioner and Journalist. He Studied at Makerere University Kampala and read Mass Communication with a bias in Public Relations. In between the course, he studied the Art of Public Speaking. He joined Uganda’s Leading Daily, The New Vision during his second year and practiced journalism till he left for The United Kingdom.In the UK, he persued an NCC International Diploma in Computing at London College of Business Studies and Computing. He went on to do a Masters Degree in Business Administration [MBA]specialsing in Marketing. In spite of being in The United Kingdom, he still contributes for The New Vision and The Sunday Vision newspapers when time allows.